31 December 2006

+REST ETERNAL+

Today Cindi's aunt, June Koier, died. We've been praying for her at St. Paul's for a long time - she suffered from lung cancer. Dave and Jo (June is Jo's older sister) had gone home to be with her right after Christmas and relieve Sandy (June's younger sister) who had been taking care of her. May the Lord show June His mercy and may she rest in His peace, and may all who mourn for her rejoice in the Child whose coming has shown light into our darkness and destroyed the power of death.

Meditation upon our Lord's Circumcision - From Yesteryear

Since the days of Abraham, a mark had been cut into the flesh of every Jewish male. A sign to identify him as one belonging to the people of God. A sign to show his obligation to keep the covenant God had given. A sign of obedience to God and to his law. Circumcision, the removal of the foreskin. It was a solemn rite performed on all Jewish males eight days after birth and with it went the giving of the child’s name.

The name Mary’s baby received was “Jesus” - a name given by the Angel before he had even been conceived in the womb. Jesus, which means, God doing his saving work. Fitting that such a name should have been the given the Child on this day. For the circumcision of Jesus shows how he would do his saving work.

In theology we speak of Jesus’ two-fold obedience to his Father. His active and His passive obedience. His active obedience is that He fulfills the law precisely as God the Father intended it to be fulfilled. He shows us what it means to live in covenant with the Father. His circumcision marks his life as an unbroken “yes” to the will of His Father. As he says through David’s prophesy in the Psalms: “Lo, I have come to do thy will.”

That Jesus obeys the will of the Father perfectly is the best of news for us. Because that obedience He renders was not done for His own sake, but for ours. He didn’t need it. He was perfectly submissive to his co-equal Father in heaven. But we needed it and so He entered into our flesh and blood that He might give the Father on our behalf the obedience that is His due from our flesh and blood. From the time of Adam and Eve, we have failed to render that obedience. We have failed to live in the total and complete “yes” to the will of the Father. We have lived instead the sorrow of our own “My will be done.” Jesus came not merely to show us another way - though He does that too - but above all to be our substitute. God’s Law accepts nothing less than perfection. 100% love. 100% obedience. Joyfully rendered at all times to the Father. That or the Law says we go to hell. No way out.

But Christ comes into our flesh to fulfil the demands of the Law perfectly for us. What we have not done and could not do in our sinful state, our Savior came to do for us. His “active” obedience. Here indeed is God at work saving. “Jesus.”

But the circumcision of Christ did more that put him under obligation to that active obedience. It also gloriously foreshowed his passive obedience. He came not only to do what we failed to do, but also to suffer the consequences for our failure. The penalty imposed by the law on any failure to keep it at any point is death. Death, both temporal and eternal. Hell, my friends, being cut off eteranlly from the Source of all joy and light and life. The wages of sin is death.

But there came this One who had no sin at all. Nor ever would. And yet into his flesh was cut a mark. His blood flowed. It was a promise of greater blood-shed still to come. The blood that would flow when that child grown to manhood would accept the Father’s will that He bear the guilt of the human race on the tree and so atone for the sin of all. Passive obedience. Suffering what was placed upon him. He getting what He didn’t deserve that we might get what we don’t deserve. Him bearing our hell that we might have a share in His heaven.

And that is how he would save: by perfectly keeping the Law for us and by bearing in his own body the penalty imposed upon our disobedience. Active and passive obedience: bound together in the circumcision of the Child. And so his name is Jesus: the God who saves.

Paul writes that what happened to Jesus that day when he was eight days old is given to us when we are baptized. He writes:

11 In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ,
12 buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.
13 And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses. (Col 2:11-13)

Thus your baptism cuts you off from your sin and its penalties. Brings you into Christ’s relationship with the Father so that He sees you as perfectly obedient, holy with the holiness of his Son. Thus your Baptism gives you life: life everlasting and life overflowing. A little Child sheds his blood today and embarks upon the path of obedience that will turn the world around and set his people free! Praise be to God! Amen.

30 December 2006

Two Kingdoms, Two Swords

I just read a piece where the Vatican has denounced the execution of Saddam Hussein. The argument was simply that it was punishing one crime by committing another. One of the things I am particularly thankful for is the way that the Lutheran Symbols distinguish between the two kingdoms and the two swords. The papacy across the years has had a fatal tendency to confuse the two - and there was certainly a time when the Bishop of Rome claimed that both swords and kingdoms were his by virtue of being Christ's vicar upon earth. The Lutheran Church's clarity on this perennial and vexing question needs to be heeded more.

To the government God has given the sword, and its task with that sword is to punish evil doers. That is not by any stretch of the imagination to suggest that the government has never abused the sword entrusted to it. It has indeed, time and again. And when it does, the Church is perfectly right to call the government to repentance. But what the Church can never do is insist that the government govern by the sword of the Spirit entrusted to HER.

The Gospel rules in the Church, but natural law rules in the state. If we visit the scene of our Lord's crucifixion we will note the vital difference between the two swords, the two kingdoms. The "good thief" - the one who confessed Christ and asked for our Lord to remember Him in His kingdom - did indeed receive remission of sins, the promise of paradise given to him that very day from the lips of our dying Lord. But that forgiveness did not remove the sword of the Roman government, nor free him from his cross. That is no argument for death by torture - God forbid! - but it does show that the right of capital punishment is a state affair; the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ, an affair of the Church. God rules in both kingdoms, but by diverse means.

A review of AC XXVIII is helpful in sorting it all out: "So it does not interfere with civil government anymore than the art of singing interferes with civil government. For civil government deals with other things than the Gospel does. Civil rulers do not defend minds, but bodies and bodily things against obvious injuries. They restrain people with the sword and physical punishment in order to preserve civil justice and peace. Therefore the Church's authority and the State's authority must not be confused. The Church's authority has its own commission to teach the Gospel and administer the Sacraments. Let it not break into the office of another. Let it not transfer the kingdoms of this world to itself. Let it not abolish the law of civil rulers. Let it not abolish lawful obedience. Let it not interfere with judgments about civil ordinances or contracts. Let it not dictate laws to civil authorites about the form of society."

A Beautiful Verse

I have loved Psalm 65 ever since I got to sing Edgar Aufdemberge's beautiful setting: "Praise waiteth for thee, O God, in Zion." But it has only been in recent years that I have rejoiced in verse 3:

When iniquities prevail against me,
You atone for our transgressions.

Isn't that a beautiful word of comfort to a poor sinner, beaten down by sin, and aching to be set free from it: it is when our iniquities seem to have won the day that we find it is not so. Our gracious Lord, to whom praise is due in Zion, has atoned for our transgressions, has wiped away our iniquities. From manger to cross to empty tomb to the right hand of the Father, Jesus Christ IS the atonement for our transgressions and no sin in my life or yours is stronger than He! To Him be glory forever! Amen.

A Homily for New Year's Eve

[Text: Luke 12:35-40]

“So that they may open the door to him at once when he comes and knocks.”

It reminds you, does it not, of the beautiful image here to my left. “Behold, I stand at the door and knock.” For our Lord is a gentleman. He never barges in where He is not welcome, where He is not invited. If you insist on Him being on the outside of the door, shut out of your life, He will allow that. He will even allow that eternally. But it breaks His heart, and so He stands and knocks. He wants to enter your heart, to enter your life, because He knows that His presence brings joy and life, forgiveness and healing.

In fact, in tonight’s Gospel we are told that He asks to enter precisely so that He might “dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them.”

In other words, He asks to enter that He might be your servant. That is His joy. It’s why in our hymnal we call the liturgy “The Divine Service.” Because we know that our Lord, the Divine One, is among us as One who serves, whose delight is for us to allow Him to be our Servant. He comes to us to wash us from our sins, to clothe us in the bright robes of His righteousness, to feed us the Feast He has prepared – His very body and blood for the forgiveness of all our sins. He comes to sing over us a love song from the heart of His Father – and He promises us that nothing in all creation will be able to separate us from the love that is ours in Him. He remains today the same Servant Lord that He revealed Himself to be on Maundy Thursday, when literally took of his clothes and put on a towel to wash the feet of his disciples.

But as I said, He won’t barge in. He knocks. He desires entrance into our lives, into our heart, our minds, our homes. But never by compulsion.

And will you open the door to Him? As you think back over the year past, you might recall moments when He was knocking and begging entrance, when you declined to have him come in. And why?

His presence indeed spoils the party when the party is sinful. In His presence, gossip has to die, for He drives out the Accuser of the Brethren and Himself speaks well of the human race before His Father’s throne in heaven, as our Advocate. In His presence, pride has to die. There is no room for our strutting about when we are with the God who loved us so much as to take on human flesh and blood, the God who went to Calvary’s cross to blot out the handwriting that was against us. The God who humbled Himself to raise us up. And His presence does indeed drive out other guests that you might want present – when those guests are the demons. His presence has a way of challenging the entire way you order your life, your priorities, your thinking, your spending, your use of time, the sites you visit on the internet, the TV shows you watch, the movies you see, the books you read, and how you use your treasure and your talent.

He knocks, and He wants to enter, but let only those open the door who can bear the consequences of His presence, of His coming in. You cannot say: “Yes, Lord, come into my life” and at the same time tell Him: “But please don’t be changing anything. I’m happy with things just the way they are.” His presence with you won’t allow it.

Tonight as across the world people make their resolutions for change in the new year, here is a worthy resolution for each of us: Lord, when you knock, I will open.

You will find then that you need to stay “dressed for action and keep your lights burning” – as you make your constant prayer: “Come in, Lord Jesus. Welcome to my heart. Welcome, to my life. Welcome, to my home. Come in and fill me, use me, lift me up to the heights of being a servant with you.” You’ll need to stay dressed for action, then, because He will delight to answer that prayer. He will come to you.

You will see him on the face of a friend, a spouse, a child; you will see him in the beggar with his hand outstretched for mercy; you will see him in the sick and the suffering, the dying and the mourning, the lonely and the forgotten.

He will be there in all of them and in all of them He will be knocking at your heart’s door. Will you let Him in and then will you serve with Him? He serves you that you might come to serve others also.

“The Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” That’s not just a warning that the glorious Appearing of Christ will come as a surprise; it’s fair notice that He intends to knock on the door of your life this year in many ways and through many people. It may be the middle of the night. It may be during the course of the day. Maybe it will be at the gas pump, or standing in line at the grocery store, or eating at your favorite restaurant. But He’ll be there. And if your prayer is always “Come in, Lord Jesus” whenever He knocks, you will find that His real presence is not confined to the Holy Eucharist, but that He fills the creation itself. Really and truly.

Because nothing in all creation can separate you from the love of God in Christ, everything in all creation can speak to you the love of God in Christ. The God who is always and everywhere “for you” – He is the one who knocks. The One with the nail scars, the One with that tender look of love upon His face. Always the gentleman, never forcing Himself upon a soul. The Lord who humbly begs entrance to serve us that He might make us servants. This year, come, Lord, enter in!

Patristic Quote for the Day

For unless the new man, by being made in the likeness of sinful humanity, had taken on himself the nature of our first parents, unless he had stooped to be one in substance with his mother while sharing the Father's substance and, being alone free from sin, united our nature to his, the whole human race would still be held captive under the dominion of Satan. The Conqueror's victory would have profited us nothing if the battle had been fought outside our human condition. - Pope St. Leo the Great, a letter, cited in *Christian Prayer* p. 1951

Old Lutheran Quote of the Day

Well may we rejoice, then, and magnify the mercy of our God. What good thing will He who loved us while we were yet His enemies, disdaining not to take our human nature into the closest union with His divinity, withhold from those who are partakers with Him of the same flesh? Who has ever hated his own flesh? How can He possibly cast us off, when by an exercise of such exalted and infinite mercy, He hath made us partakers of His own nature? - Johann Gerhard, *Sacred Meditation* XV

29 December 2006

Patristic Quote for the Day

Let us rejoice. It would be unlawful to be sad today, for today is Life's birthday; the birthday of that Life which, for us mortal creatures, takes away the sting of death and brings the bright promise of an eternal hereafter. It would be unlawful for any man to refuse sharing in our rejoicing. All men have an equal part in the great reason why we are joyful, for our Lord, who is the destroyer of sin and death, finding that all are bound under condemnation, is come to make all free. - Pope St. Leo the Great, Christmas Homily, Roman Breviary

Old Lutheran Quote of the Day

Oh, does not this infinite mercy exceed the highest thought of the finite human mind? Christ hath brought to our poor human nature a greater glory than it lost by Adam's fall. In Christ we receive more than we lost in Adam. Where sin had abounded, divine grace hath much more abounded. In Adam we lost our primal innocence, in Christ we receive a full and completed righteousness. - Johann Gerhard, *Sacred Meditations* XV

28 December 2006

Blessed Holy Innocents, plus this 'n' that.

Today we gathered to pray Matins and celebrate the Holy Innocents, Martyrs. This is when the real "Christmas break" begins for me - because there are no more official services until Saturday evening at 6:00. I love this week, though, when we feed on the Holy Eucharist and gather for prayer for some six days straight. What joy!

Last night we went to the Braasch's and enjoyed a delicious meal and we would have enjoyed the three rounds of pinochle except that the women won the last hand of the evening and so won the night. How did THAT happen?

Tonight Cindi and I, Lauren and Dean, are headed to St. Louis for "An Evening of Theological Reflection" at the Schlafly Taproom. Also known as "Beer and Bull Session" - looking forward to it. Tim May and his wife Kathy will join us as well, I believe.

Bulletins are all ready for Sunday, but realized that I haven't done a calendar for January yet. Need to get on the ball with that one. Maybe by Sunday? Problem is that I hestitate to do it by myself. Marianne (our wonderful secretary and organist) always double checks and lets me know what I've forgotten, and she continues to be hospitalized, but is recovering nicely.

Oh, and one more random joy: the roof men came and I believe completely finished repairing the roof above the organ. Now, I think, the repair on the organ itself can go full-steam ahead. I need to call the organ folks after New Years and see what we can get going. I cannot begin to tell you how much we missed our organ this Christmas. It will be wonderful to hear it sound again.

26 December 2006

A Pastor's New Year's Resolution?

In the New Year, by the grace and mercy of God, I will:

1. Read the daily Scripture readings assigned in LSB for morning and evening (pp. 299-304).
2. Pray the daily Psalms assigned in the Psalter Chart (p. 304).
3. Read the assigned section of the Book of Concord for Monday-Friday for each of the 52 weeks of the year (Concordia, p. 19-22 - note: they are presented in chronological order of their writing)

I offer this as a suggestion because I think it would be utterly achievable for any pastor - even the busiest. The easiest way to accomplish the above would be to pray Matins and Vespers daily (using the assigned Psalms and Scripture readings) and to read sometime during the course of the day (maybe before, at, or after lunch?) the page or two assigned from the Book of Concord. What strength would come to us from such an immersion in the psalter, such a reading through the Word, and such a review of the Church's Symbols!

Anyone willing to take up the challenge?

[Note: of course the laity are welcome to join in the challenge too!]

St. Stephen's

A blessed Saint Stephen's day to all. Five of us gathered for Matins and two more joined us for the Divine Service on this day. But we were joined to the numberless throng before the throne of the Lamb!

We remembered and thanked God for the witness of Stephen, the First Martyr: that the Life that is in Jesus Christ is stronger than death, and that the Love that is in Jesus Christ conquers all the hatred hurled our way, and seeks only the blessing and benefit of those who hate us. May God give us all grace and strength to follow the path of our Lord Jesus that St. Stephen trod: "Lord, do not hold this against them!"

We speak the Eucharist on the saints days, and there is something very powerful in that too. You all know how much I love music, but sometimes the music can actually carry us away so that we pay not enough heed to the words. Speaking the liturgy on these days gives force to the words we regularly sing - I am thinking particularly of the Gloria in Exclesis and the Agnus Dei. "We praise thee, we bless thee, we worship thee, we give thanks to thee for thy great glory" and "O Christ, thou lamb of God that takest away the sin of the world, have mercy upon us...grant us thy peace."

25 December 2006

Tired, but Joyful

It's 20 after 5 and we're finally winding down. Whew. What a joy, though. A collage of images: censing the altar for the 11:00 candlelight service... my paddle and still laughing!... Cindi singing "O Holy Night"... Anna and Lauren belting out "Mary's Little Boy-Child"... Visiting over Christmas goodies between services... Diane saving our bacon this year, going above and beyond the call of duty so that we might have music for our services... Jane and Monica - the beauty of Bach's "Et Exultavit" gracing the 4th Sunday in Advent service and all the wonderful music Jane played... The church packed out for the Children's Service... The choir singing "Of the Father's Love Begotten"... Keith celebrating the Sacrament and preaching this morning... Visiting with Marianne and bringing the joy of Christmas carols to the hospital... Cindi's outstanding beef tenderloin... Singing carols with Anna at 1 in the morning... Playing carols in the decorated Church Christmas eve before anyone arrived... Lola, Bo, and Jess... Missing Bob's utterly unique green shirt this year... The empty organ chamber... David's comments about wiggly bacon... Standing together in the candlelight as we sing Simeon's song and know that because of Him whom we have received in the flesh, we're ready to depart in peace...

Christmas Pics, Part 2

Cindi and Jo; Lucy protesting the evil thing in its lair; Lucy begging for her stocking; the most unusual Christmas gift ever - a Lutheran paddle. More on that puppy latter...




Christmas Pics, Part 1

Lauren and Dean; Dave, Jo and the Kids; Weedon family






24 December 2006

Christus Natus Est!

Pastor GeRue and I just prayed Evening Prayer, welcoming in the Feast of the Nativity. What striking Psalms and readings for the Eve of the Nativity - we prayed about God and the Ark of His covenant (powerful type of Mary - see Rev. 11) and Psalm 114 where the presence of the Lord is confessed by His creation. The lection was from Revelation 12 - a beautiful text for this evening.

Now we await the Children's Christmas Service at 7 p.m., and then a gathering at the parsonage between services, and finally the beautiful and solemn Christmas Candlelight Divine Service at 11 p.m.

Wish all of you, those whose faces and voices we know and love and those whom we know only through the internet, a great and joyful Feast of the Nativity!

Christ is born! Glorify Him!
Christ from heaven! Receive Him!

Wolcum Yule!

23 December 2006

Deo Gratias!

Last night as we were on our way to Dean's parent's place for a reception for his sister Jessica (newly returned from Nepal), we got a phone message that Marianne Altevogt (my secretary, St. Paul's organist - she basically keeps the place in one piece), had been taken to the hospital. She had lost quite a bit of blood, and had to be transfused. This morning she was in ICU but looked much better. A call this afternoon, however, indicated surgery was imminent. Bless Pastor GeRue's heart - he offered to head down and be with the family until I finished the Saturday service. After it was over, Cindi and I headed down and then we waited to see what the surgeon would say. Good news all the way around: Marianne did VERY well in the surgery, nothing appeared cancerous, and the doctor is pretty sure that when she gets up on her feet again she will be feeling much better. Prayers for her would still be appreciated: she is a diabetic and that can complicate matters, but as of right now things are looking up indeed. Tonight's epistle was one I needed to keep reminding myself of: "have no anxiety about anything." But Deo gratias indeed! Thanks be to God, the surgery went well and she came through with flying colors.

22 December 2006

Homily for Rorate Coeli - Advent IV

[based upon the alternate Gospel for the day, Luke 1:39-56]

I know you all think that I’m nuts when the subject of the Blessed Virgin comes up. But how are we to ponder the Holy Gospel today and not spend time talking about Mary? I would submit to you that we just heard and learnt from Elizabeth how to praise Mary aright.

Elizabeth no sooner hears the Blessed Virgin’s voice, than the baby in her womb leaps for joy and Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit and begins to speak. Thus, not only are her words written down by inspiration of God the Holy Spirit, but they were first prompted by inspiration of God the Holy Spirit. And when Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit, what does she say? Listen to her loud cry:

“Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”

To anyone who dares to say: “Mary is just like anyone else” Elizabeth would stare you down and say: “Hush, child! You haven’t the foggiest notion what you are saying. For she is the most blessed of all women and there is no other woman in the world who is simultaneously both a Virgin and a Mother, and not just a mother of any child, but of that'“Blessed Fruit of her womb' – my Lord and yours: the Eternal Son of God."

Oh, we Lutherans know perfectly well that we are not to trust in the merits of the Blessed Virgin, or to place our confidence in her as though she were our Savior. But have we forgotten what our own Confessions say of her? I think we have. What titles do our Confessions give to the Virgin Mary? You might be surprised! In the official confessions of our Church she is called: “the most holy Virgin,” “the pure Virgin,” “the most blessed Virgin,” “the Mother of God,” “the pure, holy, ever-Virgin Mary.” I could go on, but you get the idea. The Lutheran Reformers, while totally rejecting any confusion of Mary with her alone-saving Son, did not at all reject the spirit of Elizabeth’s words. Mary is indeed, the most blessed among women, for as a Virgin she bore as the fruit of Her womb, the divine and eternal Son of God. We confess as much everytime we call our Lord, Emmanuel and confess that she is mother of Emmanuel, the Mother of the God who is with us. Again, this is how our Confessions express the mystery: “He showed His divine majesty even in His mother’s womb, because He was born of a virgin without violating her virginity. Therefore, she is truly the mother of God and yet has remained a Virgin.”

But Elizabeth has more to teach us about the blessedness of Mary. Listen: “And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” And here we arrive at what Martin Luther called the greatest part of the miracle of the annunciation: not that a Virgin would conceive; not that her Child would be true God, but that the Blessed May would believe it. That’s the greatest miracle of all – and it brings us to the heart of Mary’s true greatness – a greatness in which God invites us all to share.

As Mary breaks forth into her song of praise, she lauds the Lord who has done such great things for her, who is her Savior, who looked in kindness on her humble state and lifted her up so that, in her own words, again, inspired by the Holy Spirit, “from now on, all generations will call me blessed.”

Thus, the title we use over and over again for her: the blessed Virgin, the one whom God favored and blessed above all women, and the one who points the way to faith in the promises of God.

Through the angel Gabriel, God had spoken a rather staggering promise to her. She didn’t dispute that what the angel said would come to be, though, remember she did ask for more information. She was not like Zachariah, who doubted the angel’s word and received muteness until the Word proved true. Mary had spoken her “fiat” – her “Let it be to me” to the angel and it was in this act above all others that Elizabeth saw the true greatness of Mary. She’s the one who leads our faith’s “yes” to God, to giving place to God in her own body, that from her He might assume a human nature and by her be born into the world in order that the world might be saved through Him. This she believed.

“Blessed is she who believed.” God speaks some staggering promises to you too. He tells you that in the Child of Blessed Mary, in your Brother according to the flesh, you meet His Eternal Son. He tells you that this Son has come into your flesh in order bring you salvation: the forgiveness of all your sins. He tells you that in that flesh He shares with you, your Brother Jesus Christ offered to His Father the perfect and final oblation, the sacrifice to end all sacrifices, the One offering of Himself that blotted out the sin of all people forever. He tells you that this blotting out of all sin is yours in Holy Baptism, when the water flows in the name of the Triune God. He tells you that because you are baptized into Christ, you have exchanged your sinful birth for His sinless one, so that – this is how Luther put it – you may rejoice in such a treasure that Christ is your true brother, Mary is your mother, and God is your Father. He tells you as He imparts His body and blood to you, that forgiveness and unending life are yours. The grave will never be the end for you – and when you stand before the dread judgment seat of God, you can be certain of His mercy and grace, for you have trusted in the gift of His Son.

“Blessed is she who believed.” Will you share this blessedness of Mary? Will you believe, say “yes” to the staggering promises of God to you? They are all true and He wants each one of you to have this salvation! For though you are lowly, He would raise you on high.

One last point. The blessed Virgin stayed with Elizabeth three months. And why do you suppose that was? Because Elizabeth was six months pregnant when she arrived. The blessed Virgin stayed to serve her elderly kinswomen Elizabeth throughout the trying and difficult days at the end of her pregnancy. How like her Son! Though she was truly the Mother of God, no, because she was truly the Mother of God, she exhibited the exact same kind of lowliness that her Son showed. A servant God He revealed Himself to be. And thus she speaks of herself as “His servant.” The most exalted Mother of all time was exalted in her humility! With joy, let us who share in her blessedness of faith share also in her utter humility that we might learn from the handmaid of the Lord the joy of serving others, counting each person better than ourselves. Amen.

Homily upon the Nativity

Throughout the days of Advent, the Gloria has been silenced in the Divine Service, but tonight it returns. Utterly fitting. For it was the events celebrated this night which first brought the Gloria down from heaven to earth.

It was a pretty pitiful congregation that night. Just a few sleepy shepherds, struggling to keep their eyes open as they watched over the flocks. In the darkness around them, dangers lurked. They lighted a fire, perhaps, to chase away the chill of the night and the marauding wolfe. But in an instant how paltry seemed that firelight.

Above their heads a light shown such as they’d never experienced. No burning heat of midday mideast sun could compare with that light for brilliance. And suddenly they are terrified. That, you see, is always the experience of fallen man when confronted with holiness. The angel who appeared to them shared the holiness of God and so the shepherds shrunk in fear away from the light, but there was no escape. Nor was there reason to escape. Listen.

“Fear not! For behold, I bring you tidings of great joy which shall be to all the people. For to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you. You will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”

Don’t fear, the angel cried out. He hadn’t come to frighten them, no matter how frightening holiness is to poor sinners. He had come to bring them joy. Not to destroy them. Not to give them their due. Rather, to announce that God was giving something infinitely precious into their humanity.

From a Virgin’s womb, the Eternal and Everlasting Son of the Father, whom the Angels worshipped in the unity of the adorable Trinity, is now made a baby. A little human being. Weak and helpless. Unable to speak. A child.

“Fear not!” And who could ever be afraid of a little baby? God come down to earth to visit the lost children of men, to reveal to them the deepest truth of all: that He had never been against them, that He had always loved them, that He had desired for them nothing but salvation and eternal life. And so He dares to come, in helplessness and poverty, even into the enemy territory, to lead his enemies from fear to friendship, from terror to peace.

As the poor shepherds are trying to take it all in, God ratchets it up a notch. Suddenly it is not one holy one, one angel shining in the sky above them. Suddenly there are myriads, hundred of thousands, and all of them singing, singing with joy to the poor and lost children of men: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, good will toward men.”

They see the glory of God in the vast extent not of His power, but of His love. The glory of God is that He would dare to become a man to raise us that we might become children of God. The glory of God is not terror, but love. The glory of God that Adam lost in the Garden and so mankind began the senseless running away from our only Hope, our only Life, that glory is shown in Bethlehem: unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given. So must the Shepherds have thought as they listened to the angel’s song. Glory to God indeed.

But more, peace on earth. This is the angel’s prayer for the world. That there be peace on earth. Oh, it embraces that we lay down our weapons – including the horrific weapons we civilians know how to use on each other – the cutting word, the biting look, the bitter anger. All of it, laid aside. But also the weapons we actually use to blow each other up – to inspire fear and terror. The angels pray the night of the Savior’s birth that PEACE would really be upon the earth. That we would come to love each other with the same sort of love that rules in heaven above, where the Father, Son, and Spirit love each other and the whole of creation with a love undying and full of mercy. A peace the holy angels live in and which the evil angels have rejected to their own destruction. All of that, yes, but even more.

For this Child is peace. He is peace between God and men, for in Him God and Man are one, united forever, for all eternity. Paul Gerhardt, the great Lutheran hymn-writer said it like this: “Shall we still dread God’s displeasure, who to save freely gave His most precious treasure: to redeem us He has given His own Son from the throne of His might in heaven.”

The Child does not change how God feels toward you, my friends. The Child manifests how God feels toward you – lets you know that He has loved you with an everlasting love. Oh, it is true – if you insist on meeting God apart from the gift of the Child of Bethlehem and the Man of the Cross, you will face certain and utter destruction. But that destruction is not willed by God for a single soul – for the Child is given for all, and from the heart of the Father. “Good news of great joy for ALL people” the angel said, and he meant it!

“Good will toward men.” That’s what we sing in the Gloria. That in the Child of Bethlehem is manifested God’s unfathomable good will toward men. To us bunch of rebels, to us worms, to us who continue to go on in our rebellions and sins and disobediences just as though there will never be a day of judgment, a day of accounting, a day when we must given answer for every word, deed, and even thought – to us comes a Gift from the Father’s love – Jesus the Savior. Sent to forgive us our sins, sent to free us from our hell-bent rebellions, sent to bring us home to the Father.

And that is the great cause of the Angels’ joy that Christmas night. They are filled with giddiness because in Christ Jesus, they get to have us as sisters and brothers of their Master, they get to serve us and protect us and shepherd us through this life until we share with them eternally in glorifying God and live eternally in their peace, enjoying for endless days the gracious good will of God.

“Glory to God in the highest and peace on earth, good will toward men” indeed! Glory to You, Child of Bethlehem! Glory to You forever! Welcome back, Gloria! Ever, ever be our song! Amen.

Patristic Quote for the Day

"Let the inspired Scriptures then be our umpire, and the vote of truth will be given to those whose dogmas are found to agree with the Divine words." - St. Gregory of Nyssa: On the Holy Trinity, NPNF, p. 327

Old Lutheran Quote of the Day

In the first place, she is full of grace, proclaimed to be entirely without sin - something exceedingly great. For God's grace fills her with everything good and makes her devoid of all evil.

In the second place, God is with her, meaning that all she did or left undone is divine and an action of God in her. Moreover, God guarded and protected her from all that might be hurtful to her.

In the third place, she is blessed above all other women, not only because she gave birth without labor, pain, or injury to herself, not as Eve and all other women, but because by the Holy Spirit and without sin, she became fertile, conceived, and gave birth in a way granted to no other woman.

In the fourth place, her giving birth is blessed in that it was spared the curse upon all children of Eve who are conceived in sin and born to deserve death and damnation. Only the fruit of her body is blessed, and through this birth we all are blessed.

Furthermore, a prayer or wish is to be added - our prayer for all who speak evil of this Fruit and the Mother.

--Blessed Martin Luther, *Personal Prayer Book* AE 43:40

21 December 2006

Patristic Quote for the Day

Not even His birth from a virgin, therefore, changed Him in any way, nor was He defiled by being in the body. Rather, He sanctified the body by being in it. - St. Athanasius the Great, *On the Incarnation of the Word* par. 17

Old Lutheran Quote of the Day

Take note of this: no one should put his trust or confidence in the Mother of God or in her merits, for such trust is worthy of God alone and is the lofty service due only to him. Rather praise and thank God through Mary and the grace given to her. Laud and love her simply as the one who, without merit, obtained such blessings from God, sheerly out of his mercy, as she herself testifies in the Magnificat [Luke 1:46-55].

It is very much the same when I am moved by a view of the heavens, the sun, and all creation to exalt him who created everything, bringing all this into my prayer and praise, saying: O God, Author of such a beautiful and perfect creation, grant to me... Similarly our prayer should include the Mother of God as we say: O God, what a noble person you created in her! May she be blessed! And so on. And you who honored her highly, grant also to me...

Let not our hearts cleave to her, but through her penetrate to Christ and to God Himself. Thus what the Hail Mary says is that all glory should be given to God using these words: "Hail, Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus Christ. Amen."

--Blessed Martin Luther, *Personal Prayerbook* AE 43:39

20 December 2006

Evening Prayer

"The Spirit and the Church cry out: Come, Lord Jesus!"

Tonight, St. Paul's gathered for our last Advent Evening Prayer. And it was the Evening Prayer liturgy, rather than Vespers - the people, I think, were rejoicing. We did Vespers two weeks ago, and it was not as well received. Tonight we went back to the Evening Prayer liturgy we've been used to for several years, with the exception of the new Magnificat from LSB - a cancticle which they really seemed to catch onto. A cantor (my wife) sang the verses, and the congregation sang the refrain: "My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!" It was a beautiful service. It speaks peace deep to the soul.

"Those who await His appearance pray: Come, Lord Jesus!"

There's something about that Eastern litany that I dearly love - "In peace, let us pray to the Lord" and the overlapping singing of "Lord, have mercy!" In addition to all those persons and circumstances the litany led us to pray for, we also prayed for our sisters and brothers in Hamel at New Life Fellowship Church (Southern Baptist) whose sanctuary was burned down last night. We asked for them the Lord's mercy and peace.

"The whole creation pleads: Come, Lord Jesus!"

Tomorrow

Tomorrow will be St. Thomas' Day. It's the shortest day of the whole year. We'll be gathering for the Eucharist at 7 a.m. and remembering this Apostle whom Christ called from the darkness of doubt to the light of faith.

Additionally, in the Great O's, tomorrow is "O Dayspring!" It's purely an historical accident (in the Julian calendar used when the Antiphons were first composed, December 13 was the darkest day of the year), but now the Church prays that particular antiphon that calls out to Christ as the true Sun precisely on what is for us the darkest day of the year.

Also, I cannot let a St. Thomas' Day go by without my favorite solstice poem - by Robert Frost

Whose wood these are I think I know,
His house in the village though
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farm house near,
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there's been some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Sigh. All we had today was rain. Not nearly so plesant as the snow-fall Frost describes.

Homily for Advent Vespers

[Text: Isaiah 40:1-11]

A voice said: “Cry!”

But the prophet is weary. He doesn’t see the point anymore. He says to the voice: “What shall I cry? All flesh is grass and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the Lord blows upon it. Surely the people are grass.”

Which is to say: “What’s the point of prophesying? We’re all dying. Everyone of us. We grow old and we fade, whatever beauty there is in a human being time will wipe away. What’s the point, then? We’re dying.

And most shocking of all is when Isaiah adds: “When the breath of the Lord blows upon it.” Remember in Genesis 2 – the breath of God is what gave life. When God breathed into Adam’s nostrils he became a living being. But the life that is in God’s breath, in His Spirit, that is the life that Adam and all his descendents have rejected. God told them: “In the day you eat of it, you will die.” And so death came into the human race at its very head and spread downward with each generation doomed to the same futility of being born only to die; of being given a taste of life, only to have it snatched away. “Surely the people are grass.”

God’s breath from the fall of Adam and Eve is the breath of the All Holy One, whose holiness we do not share, and whose holiness is on our sinful flesh like a fire upon dry grass. And yet only in His breath, only in Him, is life. What a sad case we are in when Life itself destroys us. But that is what sin does to us.

But despite these melancholy thoughts of Isaiah, the Lord is not done speaking with him. The voice speaks yet again: “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the Word of our God stands forever.”

What do you hear when you hear “Word of our God”? I suggest if you want to hear it aright, you need to visit John’s Gospel and remember how it starts: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” And then a few verses later: “And the Word became flesh.”

The Word that stands forever in a life that never ends joins Himself to human flesh, takes from Blessed Mary’s womb a mass of humanity and makes it His very own. This is how humanity will be saved. He will take that which withers and fades under the breath of God, and yet in Him it will not wither and fade because that flesh is now joined to the Word of God who stands forever. United to that Eternal Word, our flesh upon His cross endures the blast of divine breath, the holiness of God that wipes out human sin. But here is the great joy! What would have destroyed us, does not destroy Him. Because He cannot be destroyed, being at once true man AND true God.

The result is that when the cross is finished, human flesh, OUR flesh, is raised from the dead NEVER to die again. Made absolutely incorruptible. He took our death into Himself and death itself was defeated when it encountered in His flesh, the Life that cannot end. He took our sins into Himself, and sin was burned right out of His flesh by the fire of divine holiness. And yet the flesh lives! For it is joined to the eternal Word of God.

And this is the Good News, then, that Isaiah announces to the cities of Judah! “Behold, your God!” Yes, you heard right. Behold your God. See Him! He is now IN human flesh, visible to your eyes, run to Bethlehem’s manger and look upon Him. He has come to be Your shepherd, to gently carry the young in his arms. The One who would have destroyed us in His sheer holiness, and apart from whom we were all dead and dying, found the most marvelous way to draw near to us and come to us without destroying us, instead, drawing near to us as LIFE.

“Behold, your God!” indeed, in the arms of the Virgin, asleep in the manger, wrapped in the swaddling clothes of poverty. How near can God get to us? He can’t get any nearer than showing up INSIDE our own flesh. Come to destroy the effects of sin, to wipe out death, to give into our “fading” flesh His undying LIFE! Now that IS something to cry aloud from the mountaintops - and not just to Judah, but to all the earth.

Glory to You, Lord Jesus Christ! Glory to You!

Old Lutheran Quote of the Day

And, just as the first Adam was created from a clod of earth when the earth had not yet been cursed, so also Christ wanted to assume a human nature from such flesh and blood from which - through the power of the Holy Spirit - the poison of sin had been extracted and which was no longer subect to the curse.

--Johann Gerhard, Sermon on Holy Christmas Day *Postilla*, p. 52

Patristic Quote for the Day

[At this time when we rightly rejoice in the Incarnation, a fitting reminder by St. John of Damascus, that we might learn to see in the wood of the manger, the wood of the cross!]:

Every action of Christ and all His working of miracles were truly very great and divine and wonderful, but of all things the most wonderful is His honorable cross. For by nothing else except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ has death been brought low, the sin of our first parent destroyed, hell plundered, resurrection bestowed, the power given us to despise the things of this world and even death itself, the road back to the former blessedness made smooth, the gates of paradise opened, our nature seated at the right hand of God, and we made children and heirs of God. By the cross all things have been set aright! – John of Damascus, Book IV: Chapter 11

19 December 2006

Eucharistic Sadness and Joy

Today I took the Holy Sacrament to members in two nursing homes. In the first, was the sadness. Frieda has been struggling with her memories for a while, but she has always received the Sacrament when offered her before. Today, she took it out of her mouth and laid it on the table. I will still be visiting her and sharing the Word with her, but she's likely received the Holy Eucharist for the last time.

But you never know. Because sometimes there are marvelous days like today. When I visited Alfred today, he was asleep at first and Clara and I caught up on some news, but then Alfred woke up. I asked if I could read to him a devotion and he nodded "yes!" I read him from Dr. Luther's Christmas Sermon of 1544 (from *Day by Day*). When I finished, I asked him if he would pray the Lord's Prayer with me - and he did!!! And then I said: "Alfred, can I give you Jesus' body and blood?" And again he said yes. He received the Sacrament for the first time in several months - he had been actively refusing it before. I'm praying that something like that will also happen with Frieda one of these days.

May Thy body, Lord, born of Mary,
That our sins and sorrows did carry
And Thy blood for us plead
In all trial, fear, and need.
O Lord, have mercy!

Piepkorn's Prayer

No offering that we could bring could possibly reconcile us to Thee, our God. All that we can plead is the work of Thy Son, His perfect obedience in all that He did and all that He suffered, His body nailed to the cross for us, His blood poured out for the forgiveness of our sins. As by the mystery of the sacramental union Thou has made His true Body and Blood present for us in this Bread and in this Cup, let it be present in Thy sight also as the price of our redemption. Let it remind Thee that Thou hast forgiven mankind in the reconciliation which Thou hast wrought in Thy Son. Before Thee, we appeal to no virtue, no righteousness of our own, but only to the alien righteousness of Thy Suffering Servant and Son, our true Paschal Lamb, which was offered for us and has taken away the sins of the world, Who by His death has destroyed death, and by His rising to life again has restored to us everlasting life. - *The Church* p. 241

Old Lutheran Quote of the Day

Here also belongs what was announced before about the bush which burned and yet was not damaged, about the rock that was ripped off without hands, and many similar types of the Old Testament, all which denote that Christ was to be born of a virgin. That's why in the first promise in Genesis 3:15, He is called Seed *of the Woman* - to indicate that He was not to be born of the blood of mankind nor of flesh, but that He Himself would prepare the temple of His body out of the sanctified and cleansed blood of Mary. - Johann Gerhard, Sermon for Holy Christmas Day, *Postilla* trans. by Elmer M. Hohle

Patristic Quote for the Day

The marvelous truth is, that being the Word, so far from being Himself contained by anything, He actually contained all things Himself. In creation, He is present everywhere, yet is distinct in being from it; ordering, directing, giving life to all, containing all, yet is He Himself the Uncontained, existing solely in His Father. - St. Athanasius the Great, *On the Incarnation of the Word of God* par. 17

Today Was Martin Luther Day on EWTN

At least as far as the music went. The choir not only sang his: "In the midst of earthly life" but during the Distribution sang "O Lord, We Praise Thee." Remember my earlier post about the unity of the Western Church still visible beneath the divisions in our shared song? Confirmed again today. Or, said another way, when you want great Church music, where else do you look but to the Lutheran Reformation? (Grin!)

18 December 2006

Piepkorn Gem

It is logically possible to think of the church as it is in an infinitesimally small moment of time. Theologically and actually it is not possible to do so. For in the church we live, we are part of a process, we are being justified before God by God; there is a constant forgiveness of sins that we - who are simultaneously sinners and holy people - are constantly committing, and we who are being constantly *declared* holy by God's grace for Christ's sake are constantly *becoming* holier by God's grace for Christ's sake through faith. - The Church, p. 25

Patristic Quote for the Day

But now He entered the world in a new way, stooping to our level in His love and Self-revealing to us. - St. Athanasius the Great, *On the Incarnation of the Word* par. 8

Old Lutheran Quote of the Day

Thus, in Jud 6:38,40 God performs a sign before Gideon so that the dew fell on the spread-out fleece, but the entire ground remained dry; the next morning, the fleece remained dry and the ground was wet. Thus, the pure Virgin Mary alone among women, through the working of the Holy Spirit, received this heavenly Christ-dew, about which Isaiah 45:8 states: Drip down you heavens from above. Later, this dew came upon the entire earth, that is, the fruits of this birth pertain to all mankind; however, Mary once more became a dry pelt, that is, she remained a pure virgin after the birth, just as she was before the birth. - Christmas Day Homily by Johann Gerhard (p. 51, Postilla, translated by Elmer M. Hohle)

What's So Great About the O's?

Pastor McCain on Cyberbrethren raises the question of what's so great about the medieval O antiphons? So many thoughts crowd the mind. First, those who were blessed to hear Pr. William Schmelder hold forth on them during the waning days of December at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis need no further reason - Pr. Schmelder unpacked for us how they always gave us of Jesus.

But I don't think anyone can appreciate the Antiphons fully outside of their proper setting, which is as the antiphon for the Magnificat in Vespers.

This time of the year, I usually head over to the Church about 4 p.m. to pray Vespers. By then the sanctuary is already growing dark. I light a candle upon the altar and proceed to pray the Office. By the time the psalms are sung and the Scriptures read, and silence has been kept for meditation, the darkness is even more pronounced in the room. And then from the light of the candle, I look at the Antiphon on the page and intone it. Above St. Paul's altar there is a statue of our Lord. Looking at, I sing to him whom the statue depicts. O Wisdom, yesterday. Today, O Adonai. Yes, this One is the very same who appeared to Moses in the burning bush, who gave him the law on Sinai. He who later came in our flesh "with an outstretched arm to save us." Yes, think of how that arm was stretched out to save you. Think of it. And then join Mary in her song: "My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior." Then the antiphon focuses us again upon the Lord Jesus: Adonai...

The Evangelist tell us that at eventide, the villagers gathered around the door and brought to Jesus their sick and suffering and begged Him to come out and touch them. So at eventide, the Church remembers and prays for the sick, the suffering, the needy. Asks the Lord to have mercy upon them all.

When the liturgy of Vespers has drawn to a close on these last days of Advent, I blow out the candle and sing the appropriate verse of "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel." Today: "O come, O come, Thou Lord of might, who to thy tribes on Sinai's height in ancient times didst give the law in cloud and majesty and awe. Rejoice, rejoice..." I sang that tonight kneeling before the image of the Lord Jesus, knocking at the door, asking entrance to our lives as He always does, that He might fill us with Himself. To Him the Church always prays: O come, O come! Enter in, fill us, make us your own, O loving Lord.

I know that's not a very rational way to describe the blessing of the Great O's, but it describes how I experience them and how much I value and treasure these days, these precious days before the Nativity. Tomorrow, Radix Jesse.

17 December 2006

O Sapientia

O Wisdom...

"He is the Source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our WISDOM and our righteousness and redemption."

Proceeding from the mouth of the Most High...

"In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God."

Pervading and permeating all creation...

"He is before all things and in Him all things hold together."

Mightily ordering all things...

"All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me."

Come and teach us the way of prudence

"Come to me all you who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest; take my yoke upon you and learn of me, for I am meek and humble of heart, and you will find rest for your souls."

For more:

click here

Great O's

Reminder that tonight, at Vespers, the Church begins praying the Great O Antiphons. You can find them in LSB next to the hymn based on them: #357 "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel." Today's Antiphon is:

O Wisdom, proceeding from the mouth of the Most High, pervading and permeating all creation, mightily ordering all things: Come and teach us the way of prudence.

O come, Thou Wisdom from on high,
Who orderest all things mightily,
To us the path of knowledge show
And teach us in her ways to go.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to Thee, O Israel.

My soul magnifies the Lord...

Lectio Divina: From Isaiah 33:1-24

This is from the reading LSB assigns for today in the Daily Lectionary:

"Who among us can dwell with the consuming fire? Who among us can dwell with everlasting burnings?"

The Lord our God is a consuming fire. In an apocpryphal saying, our Lord announces: "He who draws near me, draws near fire."

"Your eyes will behold the King in his beauty; they will see a land that stretches afar."

Visions of Narnia and of the onion in reverse!

"Behold Zion, the city of our appointed feasts! Your eyes will see Jerusalem, an untroubled habitation, an immovable tent, whose stakes will never be plucked up, nor will any of its cords be broken."

Thoughts from Hebrews 11 and 12 - the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.

"Those who dwell there will be forgiven there iniquity."

The Church is the forgiveness place, a colony that lives from the future of God's pardon at the Last Day, living that pardon here upon the earth, simultaneously living in the future and living in the present. But living FROM the future IN the present.

Glory to You, Lord Jesus Christ!

16 December 2006

New Blog

Since McCain is giving me grief for no advertisement, here it is:

You love the Book of Concord? GREAT! Do we have a blog for you!

Check out:

Blog of Concord

You might just see discussion from some familiar folks...

Old Lutheran Quote of the Day

Great indeed is the honor put upon our bodies, insasmuch as they are the dwelling-places of our souls redeemed and fed by the body of Christ, and are the temples of the Holy Ghost and the abodes of the adorable Trinity. It cannot be that they should ever remain in the grave, since they are thus nourished with the body and blood of our Lord. - Johann Gerhard, *Sacred Meditations* XVIII.

Patristic Quote for the Day

Well, how about, quotes? Each person who studies the Fathers ends up with a favorite or two. I certainly treasure above all Chrysostom and Chrysologus. My good friend, Pastor David Jay Webber (ELS), he loves St. Ambrose. And justly so. Check out this great page of patristic goodies from St. Augustine's teacher:

Ambrose on Law and Gospel

Gaudete Homily

[Isaiah 40:1-8 / 1 Cor. 4:1-5 / Matthew 11:2-11]

He had confessed Him already in his mother’s womb, for in the very instant when Elizabeth heard the sound of the Blessed Virgin’s voice, John lept for joy within her.

He stood with Him in the river Jordan, tried to argue Him out of a sinner’s Baptism, and finally acquiesced when our Lord insisted this was how all righteousness would be fulfilled. And there, amidst the flowing waters, he had seen the heavens torn apart above his head, the Spirit as a dove descending and resting on the Lord, and had heard the Father’s voice announce: “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.”

He pointed others to him and said: “Behold, the Lamb of God! Behold, Him who takes away the sin of the world!”

When his own disciples began to diminish in number as the Lord’s increased, he had uttered words of deep faith: “You yourselves bear me witness that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before Him.' The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease.”

What, then, are we to make of John’s message to our Lord in today’s Gospel: “Are you the one who is to come, or do we look for another?” I confess that for many years I thought St. John the Baptist simply must have had a crisis of faith – something not uncommon to the saints of God, especially in the circumstances he was in. Yet I have always been deeply troubled by the fact that the fathers of the Church, including the fathers of the Lutheran Reformation, to a man, insist that nothing of the sort took place. St. John the Baptist, they say, was not having a crisis of faith at all. Instead, he had the problem of disciples who were clinging to him. He wanted to attach these disciples to Jesus. More of the “He must increase” until John became a zero in the service of the Lord.

So, hearing the works of the Lord, and knowing that these works provided irrefutable proof of who the Lord Jesus actually was, John sends his disciples with the question: “Are you the one who is to come, or shall WE look for another?”

Jesus responds to the troubled look in their eyes with kindness and love. “Go” he says “and tell John what you hear and see.” Thus he made them witnesses of the works that John already had heard of, so that in seeing and witnessing those works their faith would come to rest in Jesus. And when John’s days were done, they would know where they needed to go.

“The blind” says Jesus “receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up and the poor have good news preached to them.”

How the disciples of John needed to hear that last bit: that in Jesus they were encountering the Defeat of Death. In Jesus, they meet the One who raises the dead and that is good news to all the poor and oppressed. Our Lord’s eyes already see the grizzly scene of St. John’s martyrdom. He sees the head upon the platter, and he sees John’s disciples, these very men here before him, coming to take away his body, their hearts breaking that the one they had loved and learned so much from was now snatched from them by such a senseless and cruel death. Knowing how much they needed to hear this, Jesus sends them back as witnesses to His power over death, with the Good News that the Life that is in Jesus is stronger, the Light that is in Him shines brighter, than any darkness of this world.

“Lighten our hearts by Your gracious visitation” we pray in today’s collect, because we have known the devastations of death too. We have known the sadness of losing those we love. We have seen death devour them, and some of us are watching death do its ugly job even now. And in the midst of that darkness, that steals over the heart and weighs it down, we pray for the Lord to visit us with His light, with His good news that in Him death has meet its match, and that this holds good for all who are baptized into His life, who believe His gracious promises.

When the disciples of John head back with the message they had received from the Lord Jesus burning in their hearts, we are not told what John said to them. But I imagine it was with a knowing smile he greeted them and told them to hold tight to what they had heard, and to remember that he had always told them that the Lord Jesus must increase, while he must decrease.

But if John is little in his own eyes and growing ever smaller, we see that he is anything but little in the eyes of the Lord Jesus. When John's disciples have gone back, Jesus turns to the crowd and begins to talk from his heart about St. John the Baptist, and what words of love come tumbling out: “What did you go out to see? A reed shaken by the wind? A man in soft clothing? What then? A prophet? Yes, I say to you and more than a prophet. This is he of whom it is written: ‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face to prepare your way before you.’ Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the Kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”

High praise from our Lord for His fore-runner. He says of all that have been born of women, you’ll not find St. John’s match anywhere. Because St. John was little in his own eyes, the Lord saw him as great indeed.

And yet he calls you greater, you who know and taste the Kingdom of heaven already now – for though St. John got to announce the Dawn of the new age in Christ, he was in his grave before it was fulfilled – forerunner of the Lord in death even as he was in life. He never had the joy of experiencing what you know: He died before the sufferings of the cross that wiped out the sin of the world. He died before the joy resurrection from the dead that broke death’s power forever burst forth into the world. He didn’t know the joy that is yours in your Baptism. He never heard the words of Holy Absolution. He never knew the unfathomable mystery you partake of week by week as the Lord Jesus comes to you, enters you with His body and blood, and brings to you the blessedness of sins forgiven, joining His immortal life with yours, giving into you a light that no darkness of death can ever quench.

St. John the Baptist awaited it. He announced it, he long for it, but he didn’t get to share it. He was the last of those whom the writer to Hebrews described: "And all these, though commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect." And that makes you great indeed. So great, that you can be lifted up to the humility of the Baptist in these Advent days and make His words your prayer: “O Lord, increase in me and may I decrease to the glory of Your name.” Amen.

15 December 2006

One Year Downloads

Thanks to Fr. Cota for pointing this out. If you would like to download for $18 per quarter, the propers for each Sunday in the One Year Series (historic series), then click the link below:

One Year Series

Happy birthday, Daddy!

Dear Daddy,

Wow! I can't believe you'd be 86 today. I was thinking about you the other day when I was shaving - I realized that you were the age I am today when I was all of six years old. I tried to picture myself having a six year old right now, and it was not computing.

There are so many things that I want to write and tell you about. How I wish you could spend time with your grandchildren. I think they'd crack you up with their antics! Sometimes I just imagine about what it would be like for you and mom to pull up and spend the Christmas holidays with us. You'd love Lucy - of course I had to get a beagle. Beagles were your favorites, so they've always been mine too. And as for Cindi's cooking - hey, I know you guys thought Bonnie was an unbelievable cook, and she is, but I think Cindi gives her a run for the money. I picture you guys bustling into the house and sitting down (slightly uncomfortable, I know, at first, but then settling in). I picture you guys smiling as we join around the clavinova and sing carols and hymns. I remember how much you loved to hear Cindi sing. Of all the gifts you guys gave me over the years, there is none that I appreciate so much as the weekend I talked you into the piano and you went out and bought it for me. Remember how shocked mom was! But what a gift. It has been something that has brought me blessing for so many years. I always remember it was your kindness in giving into a teenager's whim that started me off on that path.

Speaking of Christmas, I know you would not approve of the tree. First, it's not a cedar. Second, it's not real. Third, there's not an icicle on it. I remember the care with which you always lifted off each icicle and hung it, branch by branch, and how stunning the tree looked when you were done. I never have had the patience, I confess. But we still have lots of the ornaments we used in our house on Munson Street. I think we even have some of those cheapo ones that mom picked up at Grand Union one year - they were green. Who do you think THAT was for, eh? And you'll never guess who usually sits under our tree! Giddyup. Yes, that old red horse is still around. It comes out for a visit every year. I think you gave it to me on that Christmas that I was three and you were 43.

Well, I just wanted to write you on your birthday and let you know how much you are in my thoughts. You've been gone for so long, but I think I miss you more with each passing year. May God grant rest to your soul, daddy!

I love you.

Willy

Patristic Quote for the Day

"It isn't by cleaving to a preconceived opinion, but by studying the force of the words, that we can possess this faith." St. Hilary of Poitiers, On the Trinity, VIII:33

Old Lutheran Quote of the Day

Thus this Holy Supper will transform our souls; this most divine sacrament will make us divine men, until finally we shall enter upon the fulness of the blessedness that is to come, filled with all the fullness of God, and wholly like Him. - Johann Gerhard, *Sacred Meditations* XX

14 December 2006

Patristic Quote for the Day

He, the Mighty One, the Artificer of all, Himself prepared this body in the virgin as a temple for Himself, and took it for His very own, as the instrument through which He was known and in which He dwelt. Thus, taking a body like our own, because all our bodies were liable to the corruption of death, He surrendered His body to death in place of all, and offered it to the Father. This He did out of sheer love for us, so that in His death all might die, and the law of death thereby be abolished because, when He had fulfilled in His body that for which it was appointed, it was thereafter voided of its power for men. - St. Athanasius the Great, *On the Incarnation of the Word* par. 8

Old Lutheran Quote of the Day

Love must arise from sincere faith, that is, it must love God in fortune and misfortune. He who truly loves God is pleased by everything that pleases God. He who loves God must also love his cross that God gives to him. This is shown to us in the example of Christ our Lord, who took up his cross since it was the will of God. "I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how am I constrained until it is accomplished" (Luke 12:50). Therefore, all the holy martyrs bore their cross with joy.

Those who have deep love for God do not find it difficult to bear their cross, for their cross is the yoke of Christ (Matt 11:29). A manget draws a heavy piece of iron toward itself, and likewise a heavenly magnet, the love of God, ought to draw the burden of our cross toward itself, so that it becomes light and easy. Why then should man's heart be troubled? Sugar makes bitter foods sweet. How much then, ought the sweetness of divine love to make the bitter cross sweet? Because of this, the great patience and joy of the holy martyrs arose, for God made them drunk by his love. - Johann Ardnt, *True Christianity* Book 1, Chapter 24, section IV.

13 December 2006

Lessons and Carols

It's pure Anglican schlock. And it's absolutely beautiful. I love it. Each year when it rolls around I just relish this service. Fr. Heath must be right: I *am* a recovering Methodist at heart. : )

The beauty to me of this 20th century service is the way it unfolds the story of redemption in such compact wording: just Scripture and the hymns of the Church. Through them we see indeed "the loving purposes of God from the days of our first disobedience unto the glorious redemption brought us by the Child."

To me each year the highlight, the absolute highlight, is to see the congregation standing in the darkness with their lighted candles and to read John 1:1-14. To announce that there is in our Lord Jesus a light given that no darkness can either understand or overcome. "Verbum caro factum est." Glory to God in the highest!

P.S. Now, if only Wilma will learn to behave herself at these service! I love you, Wilma!!!!

Some Thoughts on the Relationship of Scripture and Tradition

This is a result of an excellent conversation at our pericopal study group this morning - no doubt fueled by Sister's cinnamon rolls! There is a two-fold relationship that is in tension between the two. First, at the time of the Reformation the accent was solidly upon Scripture as the touchstone for what is true in tradition, what can made to harmonize with the divine words. This is a critical use of Scripture in regards to tradition. But it is not the only relationship between the two, for Tradition when it is being true to itself is above all the proper understanding of the Sacred Scriptures - it provides "an interpretive lens," if you will, for the reading of Scripture. Lutheranism at its best fosters the tension implicit in this. Chemnitz, recall, speaks of Scripture under the category of Traditions in the Examine. Yet Lutherans know that not everything that parades around as Tradition is worthy of the title, for some fall under the condemnation our Lord spoke of: teaching as doctrines the precepts of men. I would suggest that Rome and the East have settled on the one side of the equation: Tradition is the correct interpretation of the Scriptures. This, as Fr. Heath noted, prevents them from ever critiquing the received tradition and it explains a lot about what has crept in over the centuries. It neglects to take seriously the words of Cyprian about how what is ancient may merely be "the antiquity of error." On the other hand, there is a definite tendency among Lutherans and others to accent the Scripture as critique of tradition to the point where it is forgotten that tradition is also how Scripture is read. The Churches of the Augsburg Confession clearly sought to lose neither side. And this is shown in what may justly be called "the catholic principle" - thanks to Fr. Fenton for coining the phrase, I believe, but its final origin goes back to Pelikan's work on the Reformation where he referred to "catholic substance." The position of the Churches of the Augsburg Confession differs from that of other Protestants in that they used an exclusive principle: what is not explicit in the Scriptures has to go! Our churches said instead, what is clearly contrary to the Scriptures has to go; what harmonizes with them we receive with joy. So the Augsburg Confession starts out with affirming, not the Scripture per se, but the decrees of the Council of Nicea regarding the Holy Trinity. Our Church is being most faithful to itself when it refuses to allow either side of the "circle" to predominate, but recognizes that the Church lives in the tension of them both. The reason during the Reformation that the accent was solidly on the critiquing function of Scripture was precisely to balance the unhealthy approach to Tradition which had captivated the Western Church. But even while accenting that side of the circle, the whoel was never forgotten! We may not teach that which is contrary to the Sacred Scriptures; they remain the touchstone for all that is to be believed, taught, and confessed in the Holy Church. We may not ignore the tradition, the teaching of the Scriptures, which comes down to us from antiquity, for it saves us from subjectivity, the "me and my Bible" mentality that destroys all churchly life. If this is all nutsy, I'll blame it on overdosing on the sugar in those tasty cinnamon rolls...

Look Who Dropped In!


Saint Lucia! She came in with the traditional candles on the head and brought pastry and hot coffee to our pericopal study group. Unbelievable! We cracked up. You would have to know Sister Sandy, deaconess in the SID, to appreciate the real humor of the day. Sandy actually was up till 3:30 in the morning making us these fresh cinamon rolls. No lo-carbing today. Fr. Heath said it is a feast day and so we can set aside such rules. : )

Anyway, it was a GREAT treat. We told Sister Sandy it has to be a yearly tradition henceforth. I'm not sure we convinced her, though...

Patristic Quote for the Day

In order to effect this re-creation, however, He had first to do away with death and corruption. Therefore He assumed a human body, in order that in it death might once for all be destroyed, and that men might be renewed according to the Image. The Image of the Father only was sufficient for this need. - St. Athanasius, *On the Incarnation* par. 13

Old Lutheran Quote of the Day

Another quote from Gerhard on this day when the Church remembers and gives thanks for the Virgin Martyr, St. Lucia. Her virginal life and her martyrdom call us to give ourselves wholly to the Bridegroom.

"The holy Church of God sustains the relations of mother, virgin, bride. She is as a mother because she daily bears sons to God. She is as a chaste virgin, because she keeps herself pure from all unholy alliances with the devil and the world. She is as a bride, because Christ hath betrothed her to Himself by an eternal covenant, and hath given her the pledge of the Spirit." (Sacred Meditations, XXIII)

12 December 2006

Worthy of Your Attention...

LUTHERAN LITURGICAL PRAYER BROTHERHOOD RETREAT
JANUARY 15, 2007 A+D
REDEEMER LUTHERAN CHURCH
202 West Rudisill Boulevard, Fort Wayne, IN 46807-2498

THEME: "The Te Deum: Ancient Hymn and Confession of Faith"

MAIN PRESENTATION: The Rev. Dr. D. Richard Stuckwisch, Jr., "We Praise Thee, O God: Singing the Faith with Ambrose and Paul Gerhardt."

PRESENTATION: The Rev. Benjamin T. G. Mayes, "Preparing the First English Edition of Johann Gerhard's Theological Commonplaces."

Lutheran Liturgical Prayer Brotherhood retreats are opportunities to join with other Lutheran Christians and pray the liturgy. Retreats are characterized by several chanted prayer offices each day. Presentations on theological, liturgical, historical, and musical topics are given by theologians qualified in those fields. Time is allotted for personal prayer, discussion of practical-liturgical issues, Gem├╝tlichkeit, conversation, mutual support, and field trips to theologically interesting local sites (bookstores, churches, church supply stores, etc).

MONDAY, JANUARY 15, 2007 A+D
8:00 Check-In
8:30 Welcome and Introduction, Rehearsal
9:00 Morning Prayer
10:15 Main Presentation
11:45 Rehearsal
12:00 Midday Prayer
12:15 Lunch
1:00 Presentation
2:30 Free Time
4:00 Rehearsal
5:00 Vespers
Supper (on your own or with the group)
Gem├╝tlichkeit

TUESDAY-THURSDAY, JANUARY 16-18, 2007 A+D
7:15 Morning Prayer with Te Deum (without introitus)

THURSDAY, JANUARY 18, 2007 A+D
6:30 p.m. Rehearsal
7:00 p.m. Divine Service

TO REGISTER: Send name, address, phone, and e-mail address with $7.00 per registration to: LLPB Retreat, Rev. Benjamin Mayes, 3881 Utah Pl., St. Louis, MO 63116. Questions? Contact Rev. Mayes at brmayes@gmail.com. Registrations at the door are $9.00. Registration fee covers beverages, snacks, lunch, and resources. In addition, all participants need to bring The Brotherhood Prayer Book. Books are available at www.llpb.us, and will be available at the retreat for $40.

All participants should become acquainted with the service music before attending. The retreat's order of service with links to audio files can be downloaded here.

THE LUTHERAN LITURGICAL PRAYER BROTHERHOOD is a voluntary group of confessional Lutheran Christians which encourages its members to pray, especially making use of the Psalms and Holy Scripture. We accept without reservation the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament as the written Word of God and the only rule and norm of faith and practice, and all the Symbolical Books of the Evangelical Lutheran Church as a true and unadulterated statement and exposition of the Word of God. We strive to use the best of western Christian liturgy, prayers, and music—especially the ecclesiastical choral music known commonly as Gregorian Chant—as it has come down to us in the Evangelical Lutheran Church. We value an orderly discipline of prayer, frequent communion, and private confession. We pray for each other and meet together, as we are able, to pray and sing the liturgy.

Confessional Lutheran men and women are welcome and invited to attend.

FOR MORE INFORMATION ON THE L.L.P.B.
See www.llpb.us. For questions on the LLPB retreat, contact the Rev. Benjamin T. G. Mayes, brmayes@gmail.com .

LOCATION OF REDEEMER LUTHERAN CHURCH
Map of 202 W Rudisill Blvd
Fort Wayne, IN 46807-2438, US

LODGING RECOMMENDATIONS
If you will be staying for the CTSFW Symposia, special rates may be available.

AmericInn Motel & Suites
2902 East Dupont Rd.
Fort Wayne, IN 46825
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AmeriSuites Suites
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Country Inn & Suites
5926 Cross Creek Blvd.
Fort Wayne, IN 46825
(260) 490-6060

Don Halls Guesthouse
1313 W. Washington Ctr.
Fort Wayne, IN 46825
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Hampton Inn & Suites
5702 Challenger Pkwy.
Fort Wayne, IN 46825
(260) 489-0908

Hilton
1020 S. Calhoun St.
Fort Wayne, IN 46802
(260) 420-1100

Marriott
305 E. Washington Ctr.
Fort Wayne, IN 46825
(260) 484-0411

Residence Inn
4919 Lima Rd.
Fort Wayne, IN 46818
(260) 484-4700

The Unseen Damage

We don't know when it started. The leak was from the roof in the north tower of the church. And in the north tower, under the upper chamber, is housed our organ. Gradually it effected the organ itself. Now the organ of St. Paul's is silenced. The pipes can no longer issue their clarion call. They've been dismantled and stacked in the balcony. Christmas this year will be sans organ.

It was an image to me of the way sin effects us. We imagine that the sins we do really don't effect a thing. But that's not true. They damage us - each and every one. Like the water pouring in and hardening leather and rusting steel and finally silencing the music raised to the praise of God, so our sins do to us.

There really is only one answer for St. Paul's organ. The roof will have to repaired, the chamber cleaned, and the organ reconstructed. It will take time and effort and it will cost a bit. So it is with the healing from sin: it costs a bit. Just as the insurance company will foot the bill at St. Paul's, so our Lord footed the bill. The damage is all ours, but the healing will come from him. St. Paul's organ is helpless to fix itself; and so are we. But in mercy Christ begins and carries through the work of restoration. In this age, we'll never be restored to perfect pitch, but that's because in this age His work on us is never finished, but He promises that there will come a new day for us - a day when all the damage will be repaired and we'll be able to sound forth the praises of God as we were made to do.

Meanwhile, we live in the days of healing and restoration. And it's painful, and costly, and the damage done by our sin is real - both in us and in others. But thanks be to God, the Master Builder isn't finished with us yet!

Patristic Quote for the Day

For He alone, being Word of the Father and above all, was in consequence able both to recreate all, and worthy to suffer on behalf of all and to be an ambassador for all with the Father. - St. Athanasius, *On the Incarnation of the Word* par. 7

Old Lutheran Quote of the Day

"Glory to God in the highest," they sang, because by the wilful transgression of His command our first parent sought to rob God of His glory. The birth of Christ brought true peace to men, who before this were the enemies of God, and at variance among themselves. True peace was thus restored to earth, because he was overcome who had led us captive at his will. - Johann Gerhard *Sacred Meditations* XIV

11 December 2006

Go, Ephrem!

Original Sin


Some VERY good reading; I'd recommend it to any and all.

Old Lutheran Quote of the Day

The sacrifical system was the nerve and sinew of the priesthood or ministry of the Jewish church, and the sinew of the public assemblies in which there occurred a general proclamation and transmittal to posterity of the true doctrine concerning God and His Son, our Lord and Redeemer Jesus Christ, who was offered as a victim for the entire human race. A parallel thus exists with the Lord's Supper, which in the New Testament is the nerve of the church's public assemblings and of the propogation both of the doctrine of the death of Christ as a victim immolated for our sins and of the teaching that the remission of sins and eternal salvation are assuredly given to any individual who in faith flees to Him for refuge. - David Chytraeus *On Sacrifice* p. 58

Patristic Quote for the Day

Thus by what seems His utter poverty and weakness on the cross, He overturns the pomp and parade of idols, and quietly and hiddenly wins over the mockers and unbelievers to recognize Him as God. - St. Athanasius the Great, *On the Incarnation of the Word* par. 1

10 December 2006

Advent Hymn

Sung at Vespers or Evening Prayer during Advent:

Creator of the stars of night,
Thy people's everlasting Light:
O Christ, Redeemer, save us all
And hear Thy servants when they call.

Thou, grieving that the ancient curse
Should doom to death a universe,
Hast found the healing full of grace
To cure and save our ruined race.

Thou cam'st the Bridegroom of the bride,
As drew the world to even-tide,
The spotless Victim all divine,
Proceeding from a virgin shrine.

At whose dread name, majestic now,
All knees must bend, all hearts must bow,
All things celestial Thee shall own,
And things terrestial, Lord alone.

O Thou, whose coming is with dread
To judge the living and the dead,
Preserve us from the ancient foe
While still we dwell on earth below.

To God the Father and the Sonn
And Holy Spirit, Three in One,
Praise, honor, might and glory be
From age to age eternally. Amen.
(LSB #351)

Charlie's Funeral Homily

[Delivered almost 5 years ago]

Lola, Jessica, Vicki and Bo, family and friends of Charles Grinstead: according to the tradition of the Church Simeon was an old man when he first met and held the Christ child and announced that he was ready to die. But your husband, your father, our friend was not an old man. In fact, whenever I think of Charlie I always think of a man who never lost the joys of childhood. I can’t think of him without seeing the bouncy way he walked and the constant smile on his face and the ringing sound of his laughter. It’s not every man arrived at 53 who thinks that singing is still one of the greatest joys of the world, but Charlie sure did! He was just a big kid in so many ways and I think that’s just one reason that everyone who met him loved him so much.

But even though he wasn’t an old man like Simeon, he knew the joy of Simeon. Those of you who are not Lutheran may not know that every time we celebrate the Holy Sacrament, after we have received our Lord’s own body and blood into ourselves, we sing the words of Simeon. We say in effect: “Okay, Lord. I could just die now! I am at peace. You can take me home anytime you want. Because I’ve just welcomed into my body the Savior of the world.”

I had preached on that text a few years back and Charlie emailed me later that he never sang the Nunc Dimittis again without thinking: “Okay, Lord, I could just die now.” To understand Charlie, you had to understand that this was a man of Easter faith. This was a man who knew in his heart of hearts that Jesus Christ had not only answered for all of his sins and for the sins of the whole world when He died on Calvary’s cross, but that Jesus had torn a hole right through death itself and come out alive again and had promised His people that He would pull them through too – right out of death itself and into everlasting life.

Charlie knew that and celebrated that with all his being. When he sang on Easter day “Joy, joy, joy to the heart all in this good day’s dawning!” there wasn’t an ounce of him that wasn’t belting that joy out at the top of his lungs.

And Charlie knew that His Lord’s victory was not something of the past. It was not confined to long ago. It was a reality he lived in and drew comfort from every day. And he wanted to know that you, his children, knew that. Do remember a few years ago that he gave each of you a summary of what God had done for you in your Baptism? How when you were baptized the heavens were opened above you head and God the Holy Spirit came to you and God the Father in heaven beamed his smile on you and said: “You are my Child and I love you and I am so pleased with you!” He gave you that because that’s the confidence he lived in every day. He praised God for His baptism, for the forgiveness of sins – and Charlie would have been the first to tell you how much he needed that forgiveness – and for the promise of a heavenly home.

I think it is a special grace given to some of God’s saints that they never worry much about death. Like Simeon, they welcome it, because they believe so strongly that Jesus has changed it forever, by ripping that hole right through the middle of it. Made death itself to be the door to eternal life. Because as Jesus went through death and came out alive again, so all who have been baptized into him and who hold to Him in faith will pass through to life everlasting. Charlie was like that – he didn’t worry about death.

Saints and angels around the throne singing the praise of the Lamb. Charlie knew that already on earth He got to go to heaven every time he joined in their endless “Holy, holy, holy.” And you must know this too. For when you come to the Holy Supper and Jesus plants into You the very body and blood that answered for the sins of all and that rose in victory over the grave, never to die again, Jesus is planting into you His promise: “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life and I will raise him up on the last day.”

One of the last emails Charlie sent me was about the last day. He just couldn’t fathom what more joys could there be when God has already given you everything in heaven. Lola, you set him straight. Don’t go arguing with God. If He gives you everything and then promises more, you can only say: “Thank you, Lord.” And that’s what Charlie’s life really was: a huge “Thank you, Lord!”

And a desire burned in his heart that no one he had ever known or loved should miss out on such great joy. “Promise me you’ll see me there” was how he put it. So to each of you today, make Charlie happy by looking away from your sin and even from death itself and looking steadfastly to the Savior who has answered for all your sin and who has defeated all your death. If you’ve not been baptized, don’t put off the joy. And if you’ve wandered away from your Baptism, like the prodigal Son, come home for your heavenly Father is waiting to welcome you.

And then you’ll know the joy that Charlie Grinstead knows even now, same as old Simeon and all those who have died in faith in Jesus Christ, and therefore who live forevermore: the joy of singing to the Lord of the universe Hallelujahs without end.

In the name of Jesus. Amen.